Adam Kahane – Becoming Visible 2011 – Power and Love

Adam Kahane is a best selling author, global consultant with Reos Partners and peace maker.  His abilities have drawn invitations from warring factions to help resolve their differences in many of the world's trouble spots.  He knows how to solve tough problems in tough situations.  His most recent book, Power and Love is prefaced by a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr:… power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.

As a lead up to Monday January 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the US, I am issuing Adam's response to the question: What would you like to become more visible in 2011?  You can also Download Becoming Visible  -  the complete collection of 58 essays.

The Reconciliation of Power and Love

To co-create new social realities, we have to work with two distinct fundamental forces that are in tension: power and love. This assertion requires an explanation because the words power and love are defined by so many different people in so many different ways. I use two unusual definitions of power and love suggested by theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich. His definitions are ontological: they deal with what and why power and love are, rather than what they enable or produce. I use these definitions because they ring true with my experience of what in practice is required to address tough challenges at all levels: individual, group, community, society.                   
Tillich defines power as "the drive of everything living to realize itself, with increasing intensity and extensity." So power in this sense is the drive to achieve oneʼs purpose, to get oneʼs job done, to grow. He defines love as "the drive towards the unity of the separated." So love in this sense is the drive to reconnect and make whole that which has become or appears fragmented. Power and love stand at right angles and delineate the space of social change. If we want to get unstuck and to move around this space—if we want to address our toughest challenges—we must understand and work with both of these drives.
Rather than a choice to be made one way or another, power and love constitute a permanent dilemma that must be reconciled continuously and creatively. This reconciliation is easy in theory but hard in practice. Carl Jung doubted whether it was even possible for these two drives to coexist in the same person: "Where love reigns, there is no will to power; and where the will power is paramount, love is lacking. The one is but the shadow of the other."

His student Robert Johnson said, "Probably the most troublesome pair of opposites that we can try to reconcile is love and power. Our modern world is torn to shreds by this dichotomy and one finds many more failures than successes in the attempt to reconcile them."
I have seen many examples of reckless and abusive power without love, and many examples of sentimental and anaemic love without power. I have seen far fewer examples of power with love. Too few of us are capable of employing power with love. More of us need to learn.
If we are to succeed in co-creating new social realities, we cannot choose between power and love. We must choose both.


See my previous post on Adam: Power Plus Love Equals Advocacy.

You can download the complete collection of Becoming Visible responses here: Download Becoming Visible.  Or by clicking the Becoming Visible Category on the right hand side of your screen.

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One Comment

  1. Gord Tulloch

    What a great discussion!
    A close cousin (restatement?) of this tension between power and love is the conflict between authenticity (duty to oneself) and ethics (duty to others). Like Jung, I have had considerable difficulty reconciling or resolving either tensions into a unity. It’s as elusive as unified field theory, but always seems so tantalizingly possible.
    I think perhaps part of the difficulty is that the structure of consciousness/being human is itself a dividedness, a conflictedness, that is miraculously consolidated into the uneasy and ever-shifting unity of “self.” It’s as if dividedness-unity is a repeating ontological fractal that penetrates not only the many, but even the one within the many. It is hard to find a philosopher, psychologist or theologian that does not present the self and its world as fundamentally divided, fragmented, and questing always after unity.
    I wonder, though, if these enduring paradoxes or tensions persists because, as an 18th Century mathmatician once postulated (I forget his name), both sides share a false premise. What happens when we take another look at power, love, unity, self, etc., using another framework to understand our experiences? For example, Gabriel Marcel talks about the self as constituted by relationships. This changes the conception of self as as an isolate term in a linear relation to another term. It means that at a fundamental, ontological level, we are being-with-others. This might help us chip away at some of the tensions.
    It may also be the case that if we treat these sorts of question as a problem, we are by definition choosing abstraction which is an activity of dividedness (fracturing the world into the categories we impose and presuming we can purchase objective distance from it). It may be the case that reflection itself divides the world, presents us with the feeling of dividedness, while simply living within it gathers it all up into a unity again. There are a number of phenomenologists that describe consciousness in these terms.
    Anyways… Thanks Adam… I can’t wait to read your book!

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